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Open Access Research article

The introduction history of invasive garden ants in Europe: Integrating genetic, chemical and behavioural approaches

Line V Ugelvig12, Falko P Drijfhout3, Daniel JC Kronauer1, Jacobus J Boomsma1, Jes S Pedersen1 and Sylvia Cremer12*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Evolution, Genetics and Behaviour, Biology I, Institute of Zoology, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany

3 Chemical Ecology, School of Physical and Geographical Sciences, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:11  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-11

Published: 26 February 2008

Abstract

Background

The invasive garden ant, Lasius neglectus, is the most recently detected pest ant and the first known invasive ant able to become established and thrive in the temperate regions of Eurasia. In this study, we aim to reconstruct the invasion history of this ant in Europe analysing 14 populations with three complementary approaches: genetic microsatellite analysis, chemical analysis of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and behavioural observations of aggression behaviour. We evaluate the relative informative power of the three methodological approaches and estimate both the number of independent introduction events from a yet unknown native range somewhere in the Black Sea area, and the invasive potential of the existing introduced populations.

Results

Three clusters of genetically similar populations were detected, and all but one population had a similar chemical profile. Aggression between populations could be predicted from their genetic and chemical distance, and two major clusters of non-aggressive groups of populations were found. However, populations of L. neglectus did not separate into clear supercolonial associations, as is typical for other invasive ants.

Conclusion

The three methodological approaches gave consistent and complementary results. All joint evidence supports the inference that the 14 introduced populations of L. neglectus in Europe likely arose from only very few independent introductions from the native range, and that new infestations were typically started through introductions from other invasive populations. This indicates that existing introduced populations have a very high invasive potential when the ants are inadvertently spread by human transport.